Globalization and technological advancements are transforming the traditional classroom environment. Organizations are doing away with the hour-long talking-head training sessions and the evolution of the classroom has become a hybrid of sorts.

Successful organizations are aligning their learning initiatives with business goals in order to better meet the needs of the individual learner. More specifically, traditional instructor-led classroom training includes various delivery styles, learning technologies and modalities to better enable the transfer of learned knowledge to on-the-job applicability.

Cars.com, a leading online resource for consumers to research vehicles, connect buyers and sellers, and find quality service and repair providers, has revamped its training initiative, implementing the concept of the flipped classroom.

After conducting surveys of the sales teams to assess the effectiveness of the sales training, it was evident that sales reps were competent in product information, but needed additional support to finalize sales. Up until recently, part of the sales support team functioned as two separate entities, strategic sales managers (SSM) and sales training, each facing challenges that coincided with the other. In particular, the sales team had difficulty applying what they learned under two different sources of instruction, leading to coaching and territorial struggles.

Currently, all sales support from teaching the sales teams about product and value propositions to helping them execute and close deals, have combined as a single sales force unit.

“We’ve been really successful at embracing each other as one team,” said Chad Regnier, director of strategic sales and training at Cars.com. “We have a bunch of really smart people that can learn from each other. There’s significant transparency both with our internal team and with our customers.”

Defining Goals

Companies looking to keep pace and up to date in this digital age understand the importance of embracing a learning experience that promotes employee engagement and on-the-job knowledge applicability. Cars.com implemented the flipped classroom as a way to encourage learners to participate more (80%) than instructors (20%). This provides an opportunity for learners to attend training sessions, prepared beforehand, and ready to contribute to the learning experience.

The organization-wide learning initiative establishes goals that revolutionizes the way sales training is conducted and executed.

The primary goals include:

  • Working as a team toward a common goal
  • Ensuring sales teams are educated and can apply what they learned on the job
  • Reducing scrap learning and increasing knowledge retention
  • Driving company growth and increasing revenue

To achieve these goals, an analysis of product lists and training application was conducted to essentially see what techniques were successful and what changes needed to be made.

“We have seen a lot of success from doing the flipped classroom, where you have to spend more time prepping and thinking about it before you go to class,” said Regnier, who believes it’s all about taking your practice wings on the range. “When you point to product launches pre, and product launches post, we started to see a better sales pace when we do flipped classroom.”

Identifying Training Gaps

In the past, SSMs were strictly responsible for local market product and sales support. There was no one in place to create training plans, some of which include key performance indicators, sales approaches and post-in-market training support.

Realizing the need to implement a training plan, Regnier created a project manager role known as the learning advisor, something he learned from taking Training Industry’s Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTM) program. The implementation of the learning advisor, who has a strong relationship with sales and works well internally, helps to identify courses to flip over. Establishing a holistic plan makes it easier to identify training gaps, establish goals and implement learning initiatives.

“The biggest effect we’ve seen is from the salespeople,” said Regnier. “They have to put a lot of thought into what they are about to learn, as opposed to just showing up and then coming out and only retaining 30 to 40 percent.”

Delivering Training Programs

The flipped classroom applies to training on product information, value propositions and applicability in the field. When a SSM is present in the training, also known as in-classroom coaching, the training becomes more about application and less about product details.

The idea is to have more classroom-style training with additional support in the car. For example, if the training was about communicating value to dealers, the strategic sales person would work with the local sales market and find out where they could do value ride-alongs. Both the SSMs and sales reps attend training sessions together and participate in ride-alongs to reinforce training. Led by the sales rep, the ride-along allows them to apply what they’ve learned to daily on-the-job tasks, with support from the SSM.

The flipped classroom incorporates role-play simulations and real life scenarios that can be applicable in the field. Incorporating a flipped classroom into an organizational culture accustomed to traditional instructor-led training forces sales reps to put more thought into their training in advance, reducing scrap learning and promoting knowledge retention, Regnier explained.

Measurable Results

Since January 2015, Cars.com has transformed their sales training, launching new products using the flipped classroom. Approximately 70 percent of the training has transitioned, but there’s still some work to be done. According to Regnier, the seasonality of the business is continually a challenge when it comes to measuring training effectiveness.

“We got to the point when we came to terms with an internal set of measurements centered on the feedback of the content,” said Regnier, who implemented SABA for their LMS and Metrics That Matter for post-training assessments. “Until we get to the point where we are 12 to 24 months beyond the implementation of the system and are able to match it to our revenue results, we are still going to struggle with that kind of ultimate measurement.”

Moving Forward

Today’s organizations are recognizing the need to modernize the traditional classroom learning experience. As employees are an organization’s most valuable asset, it is key, not only to provide effective training, but encourage engagement and participation at every level. For Regnier, it’s all about bringing “sales support in the classroom and in the car.”

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